Yoga is all about connecting the mind, body, and spirit -- and true yoga combines the practices you do on and off your mat. Food is meant to nurture the body and mind, but in today’s world of processed and packaged foods, it can be poisonous and even dangerous if not consumed mindfully. Everything we put into our bodies outside of the studio should go through an adjustment and realignment process as our bodies do when we bring our practice on the mat.
The categories listed below are adaptations made over the ages from ancient Hindu Ayurvedic medicine -- which unites diet, herbal remedies, and meditation (including yoga and yogic breathing). Annam, sanskrit for ‘food’, is looked upon as the ultimate source of prana (life force energy).
The yogi’s diet should be composed primarily of foods that are considered sattvic: a quality of nature that creates balance, purity, and calmness. Yogic eating is done lovingly, and in doing so should purify the body, awaken the spirit, and calm the mind. A sattvic diet is similar to a raw food diet -- fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables prepared with minimal spices. Sattvic foods are light and easy to digest -- bonus points for organic produce or sprouted beans and seeds. Simple food that is simply prepared is considered sattvic.
Rajasic foods are less nourishing and more stimulating. Adding spice and heat to any dish will likely make it rajasic. Rajasic foods are not considered harmful or helpful, and should not be avoided altogether -- but should instead supplement a primarily sattvic diet. The cooking process (heating food above 116 degrees Fahrenheit) eliminates most of the food source’s naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Freshly cooked vegetables or spiced dishes consumed an hour or two after preparation are rajasic, but once reheated or left out, they become tamasic.
Tamasic foods are dull and drain on energy, creating disorder and chaos. Most meat is tamasic because it cannot be produced lovingly. Overly fatty foods, overly sweet foods, stale and expired foods, fungi, onions and garlic, and alcoholic beverages are all considered tamasic and should be avoided.
Throughout your days, you will come into contact with food that doesn’t always support your practice. Every day we are surrounded by fast food billboards and super-sized portions at restaurants. Overeating creates gastrointestinal discord and results in lethargy. To avoid this, it is recommended to eat an apple or pear before meals and consume food slowly, making sure not to swallow food in large chunks. It takes 15-20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain that it’s full. Over-restricting the body is considered inharmonious as well. Crash diets, all-juice diets, and fasting result in undernourishment. Master yogis and swamis suggest listening to your body’s natural communication system -- not external cues -- to tell you when and what to eat.